In loving memory, Mr. Wonka.
Let me explain.
As a child, I loved to watch the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The moment when the kids and their chaperones first enter the Chocolate Room in the factory, the bright colors, the edible forest, and the power of imagination captivated me in a way I had never felt before. If one man’s creativity could become something so vivid and full of life, anything I could dream of could be real as well. Wilder’s Wonka opened up a whole new world for me.
As a teenager, I was told to watch the movie “Young Frankenstein.” I didn’t want to, having no interest in the tired old tale about a man and his monster. Until I found out Wilder was in it. And upon seeing the movie, I was immediately thankful that I changed my mind. He made me laugh, cry, and showed me sexual humor could be clever and fun.
As an adult, my best friend introduced me to one of his lesser known films, “The Frisco Kid” playing opposite Harrison Ford. Ford was a cowboy bank robber, Wilder, an Orthodox rabbi from Poland, sent to America to lead a community in San Francisco. Basically, the relationship Wilder and Ford shared in the film mirrored my relationship with my best friend: We’re going to get in all kinds of trouble, but dammit I won’t take the easy way out and break my faith doing it.
Many of Wilder’s other films were meaningful to me over the years, but to address each one would be too much.
So why am I so broken up about a man I never met?
He was a hero, on and off the screen.
Whether it was introducing us to the wonder of imagination, the folly of trying to play God, or showing that love and kindness are powerful forces of nature, this man taught me all this and more. Not to mention his real-life work to help prevent Ovarian Cancer deaths, the disease that took his second wife, Gilda Radner, in the prime of their marriage.
His films, memoir, and lessons will live forever, and the world is better for it.
Wilder’s death pains me tremendously, as the death of a great man should. I now say farewell to a man that truly made life better for those he met, and for those that saw all of his great work.
Goodbye Mr. Wilder.
Wilder leaves behind Karen Boyer, his wife of 25 years, and many heartbroken friends, colleagues and fans. He was 83.